Finally after five years, Cathedral are set to release officially their new album "The Guessing Game" on Nuclear Blast Records. Being one of my favorite all time bands, the wait for this one has been extremely difficult but finally i have a copy here to share my thoughts on. The first thing is this is a 2CD set, not a single that was originally posted on various websites. Its a little odd that decided to take this route as the album would have fitting nicely onto a single disc if they have had removed a couple of time-wasting moments that this epic album has but its a minor complaint as this is classic Cathedral. How it stands up against the other Cathedral output will come down to personal taste and nothing more but here is my take on it. The album features more of the great artwork of long-time collaborator Dave Patchett so you know this is Cathedral right from the get go. The Guessing Game sees the band in familiar territory but with a few surprise moments thrown in there that add to their already eccentric musical approach. The first real track after the intro is "Funeral of Dreams" and it has all the elements that makes this band tick. Bruising Stoner meets Psychedelic Doom sections, mellotrons, strange Progressive Rock time changes and Lee Dorrian’s distinctive vocals which sound better on this album than ever before. Where most Cathedral albums kick off with a real heavy track, "Funeral Of Dreams" while being heavy sees the mood in a very 70's occult rock vibe much like 70's bands like Black Widow.
It is a strong way to open the album but things get cranked up a notch for the next track "Painting in the Dark" which is more straight ahead rocking much like songs from "The Carnival Bizarre" era of the band. "Death Of An Anarchist" brings in a much slower groove to the Doom table, more mellotron is featured and shows more of the band's appreciation for 70's heavy prog music. Next up in the title track "The Guessing Game", it is a instrumental featuring even more mellotron and although it is a great piece of music, it also seems to be oddly placed in the running order of the album. Next is pure classic Cathedral, "Edwige’s Eyes" is the most Sabbathian track on the album and also one of the catchiest tunes on The Guessing Game. Its a stomping bruiser of a track with a riff that wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of Sabbath's mid 70's albums. It also has a infectious hook and its just as good as any Cathedral song written to date, solid Stoner Doom for all of its 7 minutes and a major highlight. Disc one ends with "Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine" and this shows Cathedral at their quirky best, heavy but full of progy influences.
The band has been one to take the occasional musical risk and this song is another one of those but with Lee Dorrian nailing the vocals with such precision and Gaz Jennings playing at what sounds like his musical peak, it all works. This finishes up disc one which may not be as instantly satisfying as the material on "The Garden Of Unearthly Delights" but after a few spins, it quickly cements itself in your braincells and therefore begs for another spin. Disc Two kicks off with "One Dimensional People" where drummer Brian Dixon steals everybody's thunder with a massive sound but this turns out to be one of those time wasting tracks i mentioned earlier and didn't leave a lasting impression on me. The following track however is magic, "Casket Chasers" is a more up-tempo burner that by Cathedral standards is pretty straight-forward but it rocks totally. "La Noche Del Buque Maldito (aka Ghost Ship Of The Blind Dead" is next up. It begins very weird and Psychedelic before pushing on the gas pedal to what is one of the most up-beat tracks the band has ever produced. A good track but one of the surprises i mentioned earlier, it comes at you without warning but once you get over the initial shock, it is a pretty cool tune. That leads into "The Running Man" with more Progressive indulgences mixed with raw Stoner Doom riffing and a great vocal performance from Dorrian. That takes you to the most Doom track on the album called "Requiem For The Voiceless". Here Dorrian explores a animal-rights theme to the lyrics which is something i don't think they have ever done before. Its a heavy-laden Doom groove that is one of the longest tracks on the album at almost 10 minutes. The length of songs on disc two and the material within give the second disc a more experimental vibe compared to the first which is more straight-forward overall.
The final track is interesting and funny at the same time, its called "Journey Into Jade" where Dorrian incorporates the names of previous albums into the lyrics. It is a lyrical account of the bands history set to music and while it would be a cheesy exercise for most bands, Cathedral get away with it leaving you with what is a very enjoyable tune. He also asks the public questions like "Will our vinyl be rare and collectible?". Indeed i guess time will tell on that one Lee!! The overall vibe of "Journey Into Jade" is one of pure fun which is pretty rare for a band of this genre to attempt such a song but once again it works. The album ends with a bonus track but its another filler moment and then after 80 minutes its all over. The production by Warren Riker is a bit cleaner than the last few albums especially in the sound of Jennings which is a little low in the mix at times. The bass and drum sound is great though and Dorrian's vocals are his best to date. Cathedral are still very innovative and still play with a element of freshness that which shows they have no shortage of musical ideas. The album plays out almost like a best of Cathedral album as far sounds and genres are concerned. They cover almost everything the band has done in the past from the Psychedelic Stoner Doom of "Edwige’s Eyes" to the way out "Cats, Incense, Candles and Wine" to total Doom in "Requiem for the Voiceless". Where the band goes from here on is anyone's guess but they have produced a impressive album that was worth waiting 5 years for, i just hope its not another 5 years for the next installment. This rates in third place as my favorite Cathedral album behind the debut and "The Garden Of Unearthly Delights" but it is real close in quality to those two. Its only the overall length of the 2CD set and a couple of filler's that stop the album from being one the best things they have ever done. Cathedral fans will still want to buy the album as soon as possible and with a possible US tour on the horizon, the next year or two could be the most exciting in the bands career. Due for release in the US on April 20th. 8/10
NOTE: This is one of those albums that repeated plays uncovers several weak points, the rating of 8 may be a little high for this album but i still think its a fair score for the album. I still stand behind my review despite some hate mail that has been sent my way saying things like and i quote, "I think something is wrong with your stereo system".